By Kendra Sitton | Editor
The newly-elected members of the Uptown Planners group were seated on Tuesday, April 2 dramatically shifting the group to be more pro-development. Michael Brennan, Clint Daniels, Gail Friedt, Zach Bunshaft, Matthew Mederios, Brer Marsh and Stephen Cline won in a field of 14 candidates. The seven people elected to the open seats on March 5 were all backed by the pro-density grassroots organization Rise Up Town and beat out three members of the historically intransigent group, including the former chair.
“It’s so exciting for me to be on the ground to make it [Uptown] a better place to live, work and play,” said Bunshaft, who lives on the border between Missions Hills and Hillcrest.
The winners, who include an architect, an urban planner and political staffer, ran on a platform of raising building heights and faster approval of urban growth. They faced off against seven other candidates supported by Uptown United, a group that opposed high-density development.
The winners ran on a platform of addressing the housing crisis.
“As a woman, I’ve seen my quality of life decrease in the past three years,” Freidt said.
“Housing in this city and all across coastal California is astronomically expensive and I am focused on bringing more housing opportunities in Uptown and across the region so my kids, if they choose to live in San Diego, they can afford to do so at some point in time,” Daniels said.
With former chair Leo Wilson unseated, Soheil Nakshab, whose first term will end in 2020, sent a letter indicating his interest in the position. Ten voted in favor of his appointment, while two abstained. While the previous vice chair, Tom Mullaney, was interested in staying in his position according to another member, he was not at the meeting to defend his title. Instead, eight voted in favor of Brennan taking over the position after his recent reelection to the board.
“I’m really aware of the complex issues in Uptown,” said Brennan in a speech in March. “I believe that we have a housing crisis and we must take action on that, to create quality, affordable housing at every opportunity.”
The pro-density advocates also flexed their power when it comes to chairing subcommittees. Daniels will run the Public Facilities Committee and architect Marsh was designated to chair the Design Review Committee.
“I feel like I can bring an analytical position to how we view projects,” said Daniels while running for the board. “I spent the better part of 20 years looking at demographics, looking at economics, and looking at the demand for projects all across the country and I think I can bring that level of analytical skills to bear on the projects that are considered here.”
The drastic change in the makeup of the board to be more YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) has come with its share of conflict. Daniels said he was doxxed, a dangerous form of online harassment, on the Rescue Hillcrest Facebook page. He claimed his home address was posted there and reminded the audience the board is serving in a volunteer capacity. He said this behavior is not appropriate.
After being voted off the board, Mat Wahlstrom, the founder of Rescue Hillcrest, sat front and center in the audience during the meeting. During public comments, he took a combative stance defending his legacy of transparency and making pointed comments to the newest board members.
“I keep getting this accusation of transparency,” Wahlstrom said.
The board created an ad hoc subcommittee to assess social media and web engagement in an effort to promote transparency with residents, but Wahlstrom pointed out it will be difficult to have a Facebook page and comply with the Brown Act. He also defended his own record of uploading the minutes, agenda, and other relevant documents in the time period specified by law.
Wahlstrom also brought up that it is illegal for the volunteers on the planning board to speak with each other outside of official meetings, as many of them know each other through Rise Up Town. He cautioned the members they could find themselves facing the same accusations of not being transparent enough if they are not careful.
In addition, the new board members faced the raucous approval process for a pocket park, with some longstanding members saying they did not yet have the proper training to carry out their duties. However, with the votes of many YIMBY members, the development of the Olive Street Park is going forward despite protests from the audience and other board members.
After the vote, Daniels tweeted, “My first official action with Uptown Planners was to recommend approval of a new park in Bankers Hill. I look forward to seeing Uptown blossom.”
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org